I’m an introvert who spent most of my childhood on my own. I felt uncomfortable around people.
Later in life, I made friends with socially savvy people. They taught me tricks that changed my life for good.
What I’m about to share with you will help you overcome shyness and nervosity. This is how I became an outgoing, confident, and social person.
1: Learn to overcome feeling nervous or shy using “recalibration”
Every time I entered a room, I felt like everyone noticed me. It felt like they judged me for how nervous and awkward I was.
In reality, studies show that we always overestimate how much others pay attention to us.
Scientists call this the spotlight effect:
The spotlight effect is the feeling that we stand out, when in reality, we don’t.
We FEEL like we have a spotlight on us at all times, when in reality, people are as preoccupied with themselves as we are.
For me, a lot changed when I realized how nervous everyone else is.
One study showed that 9 out of 10 feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger.
Yet, we compare our nervous inside with other’s calm surface.
Take a look at this photo, for example:
Underneath the confident shell, they are all insecure and fragile beings (just like you and me). There are times they feel low or worthless or sob into a pillow.
(But they never show that on Instagram)
When you look at them through this new perspective, how does that make you feel? It made me MORE CONFIDENT.
I call this recalibration.
Recalibration is when we get a more realistic view of the world, and see that our beliefs don’t hold true.
This more realistic view makes the world less threatening.
Whenever you walk into a room, remind yourself that beneath the calm surface, everyone is nervous and fragile.
Here’s my guide specifically on how to be confident for you who feel nervous or shy today.
2. Know how to make conversation and what to say
I’m an overthinker, so I’ve always had troubles knowing what to talk about.
Take a look at this photo:
Imagine that you say “Hi, how are you doing?” and she replies:
“I’m good, I had this huge party yesterday so I’m hungover though”.
Here’s how most people start thinking:
“Uh oh, she’s probably much more social than I am, and she’s going to realize that I’m not as outgoing as she is. And she seems to have loads of friends, too. What should I say to not come off as a loser!?”
Here’s the secret to making conversation:
Instead of thinking about what you can say to not sound weird, focus on getting to know the one you’re talking to.
When you focus on getting to know someone, you start thinking things like:
“Oh, how come she was throwing a party? What was she celebrating? If she’s hung over, was it wild or does she often get hung over like that? Was it her friends or was it through her job?”
Do you see what happened here? We made a mind-shift from comparing ourselves with someone to getting to know someone.
When we did, it got MUCH EASIER TO COME UP WITH QUESTIONS TO ASK.
When we focus on getting to know someone, we get curious. And when we get curious, questions pop up by themselves.
(It’s like when you’re fully focused on a movie, and questions pop up without effort. “Did he survive?” “Is she the actual killer?” etc.)
So in the case with the party girl above, I can use any of the questions that popped up to continue the conversation.
So, I’d reply:
“What were you celebrating?”
There are some more parts to this. You want to have a back-and-forth conversation: You ask some questions, then share a little about yourself, and so on. That’s what I will cover in the next step
3. My two tricks to go from boring to interesting
I often felt like people lost interest in talking with me after a while.
When I made friends who were more socially successful, they taught me how to be INTERESTING.
This works like magic, because today, people often tell me “It was so interesting talking to you!”.
Step 1: Use the “IFR” method to make your conversations fun and engaging.
I once met a guy who had a lot of interesting things to say. But he didn’t engage anyone one else in the conversation, so after a while, people got bored.
Other times, I’ve met people who only ask questions. That also gets boring after a while, and you wonder if they are interrogating you!
So how do you find a balance so people stay interested? Enter the “IFR”-method:
First I Inquire: “What have you been up to today?”. Maybe they reply: “I slept until 2 pm so I haven’t done anything actually.”
Then, I Follow up: “Haha, oh. How come you were you up so late?”. They might reply something like: “I was up all night preparing a presentation for work.”
Now, I Relate: “I see. I used to do all-nighters a few years ago.” And then, I simply I Inquire again: “What was the presentation about?” “It was about a study on the environment that I just finished”. F: “Interesting, what’s your conclusion?”.
“But David, how do I come up with these questions?”
Answer: By paying close attention to what someone says as I talked about in the previous step. Then, your natural curiosity will activate.
Do you see how we can loop IFR-IFR-IFR like that?
This is a powerful way to make conversations more interesting:
You go back and forth, getting to know the other person and sharing a bit about yourself. You have a beautiful balance in the conversation.
Behavioral scientists call this a back-and-forth conversation. It’s shown to be the most effective way to connect with someone.
Step 2: Make conversations interesting by switching to “personal mode”.
You know what makes a conversation boring? Getting stuck talking about facts.
“They say unemployment rates have planed out across the nation”
“Yeah, I heard they’re even going up in the Midwest”.
Unless you both love the specific topic, these conversations get boring after a while.
Here’s the trick I use to make this conversation interesting: Ask a question containing the word “You”.
Here’s what I would say:
“Yeah, I hope that more people won’t lose their jobs. What would you work with if you were to change job completely?”
“Did you have a dream of what you wanted to work with when you were a kid?”
After they’ve replied, I then relate by sharing some of my job dreams, as I showed in the IFR method from the first step.
Do you see what happened there?
Now we’re talking about something personal, which is much more interesting. We’re getting to know each other, rather than talking about facts we could as well have googled.
Personal is interesting because it means that you are getting to know someone.
4. What to do if you feel judged
Back in school, some bullies always picked on me for everything and anything.
My brain “learned” that people would judge me. Years after school, I still assumed that people would pick on me. (Even if it hadn’t happened since school)
As a result, I tried to be as perfect as I could be, so no one could pick on me. But… it didn’t make me more confident. Only more concerned.
A friend of mine taught me something that finally helped:
Instead of trying to be perfect, he had started to be completely open with all his flaws.
He was a virgin until very late, and he was always petrified that people would find out.
Finally, he decided to stop caring if people knew. It was as if he stopped “playing the game of Hide and Seek between those who judged and his flaws.
It was as if we went “Ok, I give up, here are my flaws, do what you want with it”.
And the judging demons in his mind *poof* disappeared. Why? Because there was nothing left to chase.
Now, this doesn’t mean that my friend started telling everyone that he was a virgin. That’s not what it is about.
I would describe the mindset as “If anyone would ask, I would tell them, not try to hide it”.
I was always obsessing that my nose was big. It came to the point where I tried to angle me in a way that people never saw my profile.
Whenever I entered a room, I assumed that everyone focused on my nose. (Which I now know was only in my head). But I decided to not care to hide my flaw.
It’s not about trying to convince yourself that you have no flaws. I didn’t try to make myself believe that I had a small nose.
It’s about owning your flaws.
Everyone walks around comparing themselves with other’s perfect surface.
Owning your flaws is the realization that being human = having flaws. What’s the point for two flawed humans to hide their flaws to each other? It’s better to just put down the masks.
We should still work to improve ourselves, but not try to hide who we are at any given point.
Whenever you fear that people will judge you, remember this:
Own your flaws.
5. Learn to overcome the fear of rejection using the Growth Sign-method
My socially successful friends said something that I at first couldn’t believe:
They faced rejection all the time and LIKED IT.
Wait, what. Why?
Well, here’s the thing: I saw rejection as a sign of failure, something to avoid at all costs. They saw it as a sign of self-growth.
To them, getting rejected means that you take the opportunities life gives you. In other words, that you live life to the fullest.
It took me some time to wrap my head around, but it makes sense:
A life lived to the fullest is full of rejections, because the only way to not get rejected is to not take chances.
There are even games you can play to practice rejection.
Here’s what I do:
If I want to meet up someone, be it a girl I’m attracted to or a new acquaintance, I send a text:
“It was nice talking with you. Want to grab a coffee next week?”
Two things can happen. If they say yes, great! I’ve made a new friend. If I get rejected – great! I’ve grown as a person.
And best of all, I know that I didn’t miss out on an opportunity.
The next time you might face rejection, remind yourself that it’s a sign that you live life to the fullest.
6. How to not freeze up, feel awkward or lock up around new people
I could be myself around close friends, but around strangers (especially intimidating one’s) I froze up.
With intimidating, I mean anyone who was tall, good-looking, loud, confident and so on.
I even remember asking myself: “Why can’t I relax and be normal?”
What happened was this: I got afraid, and my body started pumping adrenaline. I entered the fight-or-flight mode.
A friend of mine, Nils, tried to overcome this by doing crazy out of your comfort zone-stunts.
During one period in his life, Nils tried pushing as far out of his comfort zone as he possibly could.
Like laying down on a busy street
Speaking in front of a large crowd
Doing stand-up on the subway
Talking to every girl on the street he felt attracted to.
Here’s the problem: It didn’t work.
He felt more confident a few hours after he made one of those stunts, but then the nervosity came back.
Behavioral scientists know this: Social anxiety doesn’t go away by doing crazy stunts.
There’s no point in doing what terrifies us.
What works is to stay in slightly uncomfortable situations for longer than we normally do.
Here’s an example:
If you get uncomfortable talking to a stranger, you probably try to wrap up as soon as possible. Instead, try to stay in the conversation a bit longer, even if it’s uncomfortable.
The more hours we spend in awkward situations, the less do they affect us!
Every time you feel nervous, try to stay in that setting because the longer you feel nervous, the more you’re emptying the nervosity-bucket.
Before, I saw that nervosity as something bad and tried to avoid it.
When I learned this, I started staying longer in those situations.
I even started feeling good about being nervous, because I knew that I slowly poured out the nervosity bucket!
When that bucket is empty, that’s when you can be truly relaxed around people. That’s when you stop freezing up!
Stay in the situations that make you uncomfortable for as long as you can. Remember that whenever you feel nervous, you’re slowly emptying the nervosity bucket. Once you’ve poured long enough, you’ll come out the other end a more confident person!
7. Overcome the feeling that “people won’t like me”
I had a strong feeling that people wouldn’t like me.
I think it came from my time in elementary school where some of the other kids used to bully me. But the problem was that long after school, I was still afraid that people wouldn’t like me.
I also had a conviction that people didn’t like me because of my big nose.
As a defense against rejection, I waited for others to be nice toward me before I dared to be nice toward them.
I illustrate the problem in this diagram:
Because I waited for others to be nice toward me FIRST, I came off as distant. People replied with being distant back. I assumed it was because of my nose.
You see how stupid that is? One day, as an experiment, I tried to be warm toward people FIRST. I didn’t think it would work, but the result was mind-blowing:
When I dared to be warm first, people were warm back!
This was a huge leap on my personal journey to be more outgoing.
When you’re afraid that people won’t like you and the safe path is to be cautious, instead try to be warm toward them.
Now, warm doesn’t mean that you should be needy, because that will backfire. I explain more here.
8. How to open up more
1. Don’t be a walking black box
To be approachable and outgoing, we want to share a little bit about ourselves when we talk to someone. I’ve always felt uncomfortable doing this. I was more comfortable asking questions and getting to know others.
But here’s the thing: For people to trust you and like you, they need to know a little bit about you.
This isn’t about sharing your innermost secrets, but a glimpse into who you are, so you don’t come off as a walking black box.
Here’s what I mean.
Maybe you’re talking about, say, plants. I could say: “I remember growing tomatoes when I was a kid. Did you grow stuff as well?”
Notice how it isn’t about sharing something sensitive. It’s about showing that we’re human.
If we’re talking about Game of Thrones, I would say “For some reason I’ve never come around to watch it, but I did read the Narnia series some years ago. Are you into Fantasy?”
If we’re talking about apartment rents (To show that this works for all kinds of subjects) I could say: “My dream is to one day live in a highrise with a great view. Where would you wanna live if you could live anywhere?
Notice this back-and-forth “I did/think/dream of this, what about you?” – that’s a GREAT way to get to know someone, and for someone to get to know you.
Share small things about yourself, and follow up by asking something about them. Don’t be a black box!
2. Smile using the Crow’s-feet method
When I felt uncomfortable, I used a fake smile, or I forgot to smile altogether. A HUGE part of being outgoing is to have a natural smile.
It’s one of the oldest functions we humans have to show that we have good intentions. If we don’t smile, nothing else works!
Here’s what one study from 2014 found:
“Research has linked smiling to likeability, attractiveness, trustworthiness, and a positive ‘halo effect,’ which leads to associating the person with goodness.”
The problem is that if a smile isn’t genuine, it looks weird. Why? Because we forget to activate our eyes.
Here’s an exercise you can do right now:
Go to a mirror and smile with your eyes, so that you get small “crow’s-feet” in the outer corners of your eyes. THAT’S a warm smile that will make you look relaxed!
LESSON LEARNED: Smile with your eyes so that you get crow’s feet in the outer corners of your eyes.
3. Keep eye contact with the Eye-corner trick.
The third part of being more open is to keep eye contact. I can’t understate this:
Making eye contact is a dealbreaker when you talk to someone.
Yet, growing up as a nervous, awkward nerd, I know that keeping eye contact is easier said than done.
Here are my tricks for how to keep eye contact:
The eye color-trick: Try to determine the eye color of the person you talk to. When you do, you get preoccupied with trying to figure the color out, and it feels more natural to look them in the eye.
The eye corner-trick: If it feels too intense to look someone in the eyes, look them in the corner of their eye. Or, if you’re at least three feet from each other, you can look at people’s eyebrows.
The focus-shift method: This takes some training, but it’s my favorite method and the one I use today:
Focus all your attention on what someone is saying when they are talking. If you do, it feels more natural to keep eye contact.
You need to move your attention away from you and re-focus on what they are saying. This takes some time to master, but it’s hands down the most effective way to maintain eye contact because it makes you more relaxed from the ground up.
9. Share your insecurities to overcome them.
In step 4, I told you how owning our flaws makes us more confident and outgoing.
Here’s an exercise I invite you to do right now: Share in the comments below what your flaws and weaknesses are. Pay attention to how revealing something we try to conceal feels empowering!
You can also read other’s comments and see how everyone has flaws – so why even bother hiding yours!
Let me know in the comments below – I’m excited to hear from you!